No Country For Old Tropes: Representation and Political Affect in Red Dead Redemption 2

“No Country for Old Tropes”

Special thanks to Andrew Johnston for his kind invitation to keynote with Armond Towns, Rianka Singh, and André Brock, Jr. at NC State University’s Technologies of Race Symposium. Here is the abstract for my talk:

Rockstar’s iconic western-themed action adventure series, Red Dead (2004- ), is typically discussed in terms of its visual realism, historical authenticity, or how it engages with quintessential American cultural mythologies. It is often debated whether the games ultimately offer critique or valorization of those values expressed within their universes. This essay articulates how the game’s aesthetics, appropriation of the Western genre, as well as its space and time-based experience, all contribute to a concentrated political affect that engages with an American political present—and perhaps even its potential futures. Enhancing a growing game studies discourse on inclusivity, this research further develops Murray’s visual studies of playable representation, grounded in an understanding of form as deeply enmeshed in identity politics, not separate from it.

This speculative essay captures a process of learning how to articulate an expanded understanding of representation and ideology in video games, through a revisionist counter-reading by a player both American, yet not interpellated by the game’s offerings. Written in a critical and reflective mode, this essay bridges an affective narrative of playing the game, with a theoretical meditation on what its fictions can possibly teach us.